New Zealand’s Man O’ War Wines

New Zealand Hauraki Gulf

Man O’War is a family owned wine estate situated in the rugged hills of Waiheke Island off the coast of Aukland in the Hauraki Gulf. The island, itself, is rich in history; Captain James Cook anchored there during his first voyage around New Zealand in 1769 and taking note of the magnificent stands of Kauri trees, wrote in the his journals that they would make ideal masts for the “Man O’ War” warships for the Royal Navy.

The Man O’War estate is 4,500 acres or roughly a fifth of the total island. The estate has been in the hands of the current owner for over thirty years and has been run primarily as a sheep and cattle ranch. However, beginning in 1993, the owner planted vineyards convinced that the island’s steeper hillsides with their iron rich clay soil were ideally suited for growing Syrah and Bordeaux varietals.

Today the Man O’ War vineyards consist of 150 acres in some 90 individual hillside blocks planted with a mix of varietals each suited to their topography, soil profile and microclimate. The selection of these blocks took well over 10 years and involved extensive research (soil mapping, weather data collection and the planting of experimental sites to assess the wine growing potential of each area. Whites are situated on the higher cooler volcanic hilltops and the reds on the best drained clay soils of the lower slopes.

Winemaking is in the hands of veteran winemaker Duncan McTavish, formerly with Pegasus Bay in the Waipara. The wines are produced under two labels. The white label offers fresh and fruit forward wines and the black label series of wines of greater complexity and aging potential.

The wines are currently imported by Noble House, New York, NY and distributed in the greater Washington, DC area by Nice Legs, Sterling, VA

Our tastings notes and ratings of the Man O’ War wines are provided below.

Man O' War 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Waihekie Island ($19) 89

The 2009 Man O' War Sauvignon Blanc is aromatic and fresh tasting with flavors of guava and other tropical fruits and herbal notes. It is ripe and creamy on the palate with moderate acidity, a touch of sweetness, and a fresh lively finish. A delicious cool climate Sauvignon Blanc.

Man O’War 2009 Pinot Gris Ponui Island ($20) 88

The 2009 Pinot Gris is yeasty on the nose with moderate fruit flavors on the palate. It is nicely balanced with moderate acidity, herbs and touches of stone fruit. It is a delicious easy drinking wine with a clean fresh finish.

Man O' War 2008 Chardonnay Waihekie Island ($20) 90

ChardonnayThe yellow gold Chardonnay offers fragrant aromas of citrus and melon followed by a rich and creamy mouth feel with good acidity and freshness on the palate. It is 30% barrel fermented in used barrels with extended lees contact and no malo. Elegant and fresh, it is a delicious wine easy to drink and enjoy. 

Man O' War 2009 Valhalla Chardonnay Waihekie Island ($35) 88

The barrel-fermented 2009 Valhalla Chardonnay displays a yellow-gold hue with prominent scents of cedar and light citrus. On the palate is reveals some tartness with flavors of apricot and cedar. It has good texture and volume, but would probably benefit from lighter oak treatment.

Man O' War 2008 Merlot Cabernet Franc, Malbec Waihekie Island ($20) 87+

This bottling is a blend of 40% Merlot, 27% Cabernet Franc, 19% Malbec and 12% Cabernet Sauvignon. It has ruby red hue and fragrant aromas of red berries and plums on the nose. On the palate it reveals an elegant mouth feel with good fruit concentration and balance. Although the wine is pleasant tasting and easy drinking, the tannins are rather gripping at this stage.

Man O’ War 2008 Dreadnaught Syrah ($40) 90

This cool climate Syrah is fresh and fruit forward revealing pure black and blue fruit aromas and flavors with notes of black pepper and spice. Aged for 15 months in primarily used French and American oak it has a soft rich texture and outstanding balance. It is elegant and savory on the palate with moderate acidity, supple tannins and a long finish. Well done.

Man O' War 2008 Ironclad Bordeaux Blend Waihekie Island ($40) 91

Ironclad Berdeaux BlendIronclad is a terrific Bordeaux blend of Merlot (52%), Cabernet Franc (27%) and small amounts of Malbec, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon. It is fresh and aromatic with a soft attack, velvety smooth texture and nicely concentrated red and black fruit flavors on the palate with notes of smoky cedar and spice. It is a polished wine with firm round tannins, silky elegance and a highly satisfying finish. It is by far the estate's best wine.

Mike Potashnik and Don Winkler